“Firms Are Businesses”

Great post on the Adam Smith, Esq. blog (which is included in our blog roll) on Latham’s recent news.  You should read the whole thing, but here is a key quote [after noting that Latham is “well managed” and that it’s severance policy is double the going rate]:

“Finally, this morning’s news out of Latham tells us something with all the emphatic insistence of a fire-truck air horn:  Firms are businesses.  I hope that by now that comes as news to no one.
Before firms can live to thrive again another day—which, trust me, they will—they first have to live. 
Call it what you will (carrying excess human capacity, being underutilized, supporting fallow and unproductive assets), it’s simply not viable in a competitive marketplace to have a substantial proportion of the people on your payroll sitting around with too little to do.
That is also bad for morale, bad for professional development, unattractive to talented candidates you might want to recruit, and, finally, less than useless to clients.
At the moment, understandably and inevitably, we are all focused on the “destruction” inherent in Joseph Schumpeter’s powerful insight about how capitalism repairs and reinvigorates itself.  It would be much more fun if we could focus on the “creative” dimension.  But not yet.  Not just yet.”

Legal Market Expert Predicts Change in Law Firm Business Model

In a recent article appearing on law.com, Paul Lippe, founder and CEO of Legal OnRamp (a social networking site for in-house lawyers), expressed an interesting view about the future of the firm business model. 

He believes, once things begin to turn around, firms will be much less leveraged.  He expects firms to: 1) outsource more work formerly done by associates; 2) employ cheaper contract lawyers (i.e., those who are not on any kind of partnership track) to handle some associate work; and 3) employ more technology to supplant some of the work done in the past by associates.   Less associate billings will mean less revenue for firms (he predicts a 20% drop), which will require them to cut at least 40% in overhead to maintain profits.  

Read the whole article, which explains how the outmoded law firm model came to be and why law firms will need to restructure in order to succeed going forward.          

Predictions About the Legal Market in 2009 and Beyond

A few times each year, law firm business consultants at Hildebrandt, International and the Citibank Private Bank issue client advisories that highlight recent market trends and make predictions about the near and long term future of the legal market.  The latest advisory is available here.    

If you are in the private legal sector (or entering it), you absolutely need to read the whole thing.  Some major predictions:

  • Cost-cutting measures — including freezing salaries, eliminating bonuses and layoffs — will continue in 2009. 
  • Firms will need to consider major changes to their traditional business model — like the associate compensation structure and the “billable hour” method of charging clients.
  • Demand for legal services will be flat throughout 2009 and broad recovery will not happen until 2010, which means that more law firm layoffs will take place in 2009

Where’s the good news in all of this?  Among other things, the Advisory notes that legal services is one of the first sectors to recover in a downturn and that, by emphasizing “countercyclical” practices (including bankruptcy, employment law, and government regulations) the legal industry will be able to sustain itself better than other market sectors.     

Public Interest Careers and Managing Law School Debt

Interesting exchange from Slate magazine’s “My Goodness:  Advice on How To Make the World Better” Department having to do with managing law school debt while pursuing a public interest or public sector career. 

Networking: 70+% of Jobs Come Through Contacts

Some excellent thoughts about the importance of networking recently appeared in Law Practice Today, the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s webzine.  Three prominent career experts share their thoughts finding and keeping a job in an economic downturn.  Read the whole thing here

Some key quotes:

Shelley Canter [author of Make the Right Career Move: 28 Critical Insights And Strategies to Land Your Dream Job]:

Over the past 20 years, studies have consistently shown that at least 70-80% of jobs come through one’s network. My experience is that in bad economies, this statistic is even higher.

Kathleen Brady [author of Navigating Detours on the Road to Success]:

The internet is a great way to learn about where the opportunities are but simply submitting resumes on line yields a pretty low rate of return. Job seeks should definitely use the internet but they should not hide behind their computer screens. Use the internet to learn about other careers and compile lists of target companies. Visit web pages, read press releases; know what career opportunities exist (even if they are not at your level.)

At the same time, begin to compile lists of people who might be able to help you. Consider family members, former classmates and colleagues as well as people “on the other side” of deals or projects you have met throughout your career. Strategize how they might be helpful. Can they provide information about a job posting you found? Can they introduce you to someone on your target list or help you expand your target list? Perhaps they can offer feedback on your resume or approach tactics. Be prepared to ask people for something specific they can do to be helpful. You have to do your homework first, but the bulk of your time should be spent talking to people.

It is one thing to understand the concept of networking. It is quite another to know HOW to do it. Start with the easy ones, those friends and colleagues you feel comfortable calling. Invite them to lunch and say, “I’m thinking about making a job chance and wanted to bounce some ideas off you.” During these initial meetings you will begin to become more comfortable talking about yourself, and, because these are your friends, they will be more forgiving if you stumble slightly as you craft your message.

The ability to communicate your qualifications to potential employers entails more than just informing them of your technical competence. You must be able to illustrate that you have the requisite personal attributes–things like problem solving abilities, analytical skills, assessment and planning capabilities–to perform the job. The examples you use to talk about your accomplish­ments should elucidate your thinking and problem solving style. The more con­crete and specific you are, the better able your contact will be to think of possibili­ties for you and suggest addition­al people you should meet. That’s why it is critical that job seekers engage in the self-assessment process before they launch into the networking process.

A common mistake people make when job prospecting is to use the meeting as a therapy session. You do not want to inspire guilt, pity or dread. Your goal should be to make your contacts feel good about their ability to help you. It is important that you present yourself as posi­tive, confident and self-assured, not negative, needy and desper­ate. Never make your contacts feel sorry for you or responsi­ble for your situation. Do not scoff at their suggestions by saying “I’ve tried that and it does not work,” otherwise your contacts will doubt their ability to help and begin to avoid you. If you need to express anger, bitterness, anxiety, etc., talk to a career counselor or seek out a member of the clergy or a sympathetic friend before meeting with your contacts.

Employment Law Work On The Increase

Here’s a link to a recent article talking about how business for employment law practice groups — particularly in the Bay Area — is up. 

Summer Apartment Exchange

NALP — the Association for Legal Career Professionals — maintains an apartment exchange database for students of their member schools.  If you are working out of town this summer and need to sublet (or need housing in the city you will be working in over the summer), you should check it out.  

New Resource: Law and Journalism

We recently became aware of a website dedicated to students interested in media law and legal journalism.  It contains links to some job opportunities.   Its called cubreporters.org and you can find it here.

FYI — we link to other legal practice area career resources, such as the Entertainment Law Guide (courtesy of the Boalt student organization SELS), and the Career Guide for Energy, Climate and Clean Tech Law (courtesy of the Berkeley Energy and Resources Colalborative, or BERC) , in the Career Exploration section of the CDO website.   We’ll be adding a link there to cubreporters.org shortly.